When BMW first launched the X6 many people, myself included, wondered what the point of it was. Who needed a coupe SUV or, as BMW termed it, a sports activity coupe (SAC)? It had terrible boot space, limited rear seat space and lacked all the practicality of the X5.
Then they started appearing in the night, leaving nightclubs at closing time. Kitted with big bling wheels and wearing a matte black wrap, the X6 became the symbol of the night, the bouncer of the SUV market. It had attitude and many people wanted one to match their personality, or at least give the impression that they reflected the attitude of the car. No-one admitted to it, though. I have a friend who asked me to guess what car she had bought. A Range Rover, I answered. No. Then like a discreet drug dealer in an alley, she lowered her voice and whispered: “A BMW X6.”
That was the thing about the first generation of the X6. It had no practicality, you could barely see out of the rear window and it had more blind spots than an armoured personnel vehicle. But it was unique and it had attitude. It was a cool take on the SUV genre and unless you had 2.4 kids and a dog, the lack of practically could be ignored. It was also dynamic. I went to the original launch in Spartanburg, South Carolina in the US and threw it around a proving ground where its ability appeared to defy the laws of physics.
So it was that I found myself back in Spartanburg for the launch of the second generation. At this point I could make this article very short. After conversations with a few experts from BMW at the launch I asked the question: “So it’s an X5 coupe then?” German engineers hate it when you see through the marketing hype. They look at the floor as though they have strict instructions and then the answer came: “Ja”.
So there you have it, the new X6 is the X5 coupe. This is not surprising given the company has renamed the 3 Series coupe as the 4 Series. Being a five-door though, the X6 should have been called a X5 Gran Coupe to match the naming conventions of other models. There are some differences, although less than with the original generation. Now the front looks even more X5 and the side profile has lost the sharp rake of the coupe line in the original. This has been done to improve boot space and rear headroom, although I still found my head touching the roof in the rear seats.
The boot space still looks the same as that in a sedan and because of the coupe line tailgate you cannot stack to the roof practically unless you have something triangular shaped like a giant wedge of cheese. The rear window is larger to improve visibility and you get new tail lights and obviously a different rear to that in the X5. Inside you get, well, an X5 really. You do get the option of a digital dashboard which changes themes depending on which mode you are driving in between Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport+.+
The new X6 might lack some of the attitude of the original, but the flip side is that it is now a little more grown up. It is like the bouncer who went to Harvard to get a degree in management sciences. It has a more refined look, but it is more executive than before. It is still not for the family exec though; if that is you then stick with the X5, the Range Rover Sport or the Porsche Cayenne. There is one major characteristic it has retained. Peter Wolf, senior vice-president of product lines and grand series at BMW AG, said the new model is “the sportiest member of the X family”. And he is right, although both an X5M and X6M are on their way.
The chassis has been tuned to be more dynamic than the X5 and it has an upgraded version of the X5’s eight-speed gearbox that will be rolled out to other models soon. There are various packages available which will include items such as a Dynamic adaptive suspension package, a Comfort adaptive suspension package and a Professional adaptive suspension package. The drive through North and South Carolina included some twisty mountain passes but, conscious of the possibility of a patrol car hiding round the next corner, it was mostly done at the mandatory 55mph speed limit so no sign of the dynamic nature there.
Then we hit the proving ground. Including a skid pan, slalom course and handling track, the X6 was chucked around like a race car and did not falter once. I spent my time in the M50d which with its 280kW and 740Nm provided immediate response and a fair dose of oversteer and understeer, particularly in Sport+ mode. It is always a thrill to throw a big SUV around a racetrack and going right back to the original X5, these models have always been at their best in this environment.
The new X6 will arrive in SA in February 2015 and there is one final issue, the price. It might be more X5 coupe than before but it will carry a price premium over its X5 sibling. Indicative pricing will see the range start at R955,503 for the xDrive 35i, to R1,332,540 for the xDrive M50d.